In September 2012, barack obama was weeks away from beating GOP rival Mitt Romney to win his historic second term as America’s first black president. The United States seemed to be a place of endless possibilities and hope, as well as a series of trials, complications and deadly contradictions.
Perhaps nowhere was this more evident than on reality TV, where Bravo’s “Don’t Be Tardy” and E! were shows that people inexplicably watched.
Meanwhile, on VH1, Sheree Zampino was about to get her first taste of reality TV stardom on “Hollywood Exes,” essentially a more grounded version of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” that made her debut two years after “Housewives”. “Exes” featured Zampino ― the ex of actor Will Smith and NFL player-turned-pastor Terrell Fletcher ― and the ex-wives of other notable Los Angeles celebrities, including Nicole Murphy, Andrea Kelly, Mayte Garcia and Jessica Canseco (the respective exes of legendary comedian Eddie Murphy; now disgraced and incarcerated, the R&B star R.Kelly; Prince, the beloved musical genius; and Major League Baseball star Jose Canseco).
And I was in it. Mostly. (And not just because Zampino, at the time, was married to a fellow St. Louis who went to school with my older sister.)
It was glamorous while being relatable. Who hasn’t been hurt or abandoned by an ex, like Andrea Kelly, or somewhat clinging to an iconic old love, like Mayte Garcia? But then there was Nicole Murphy, who came from the other side and made it big. She spent most of her screen time with her gorgeous model-ready daughters and buying things with then-boyfriend Michael Strahan’s black card.
And Zampino, who studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, was fashionable there, supporting her friends with amusing looks and comments while dealing with her own drama within her soon-to-be-shattering marriage.
“Even though we don’t talk every day, it’s like one of those things where when we connect, it’s like we pick up where we left off,” Zampino now says of his bandmates. “Hollywood Exes” cast. “There’s a real brotherhood, a real bond there that I believe is like, you know, it’s a lifetime.”
The VH1 series ran for three seasons and prepared Zampino for the over-the-top, sometimes unforgiving world of Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchise. She joined “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” this season as a friend of the show’s first black cast member, fan favorite Garcelle Beauvais.
“What gave me some security and confidence was because I did ‘Hollywood [Exes]”” Zampino said. “I knew it was on a whole other level. I didn’t know how. But I came in just being present.
“I’m a fan so I watched it for years and you guys have your opinions and stuff,” she continued. “And I understand that with reality [TV], you don’t see everything. They have a story they’re trying to tell on the back end, the production. So I said, I want to come in and be fair and just have an “in the moment” experience with these ladies, like a real-time experience. And I think it worked for me. It gave me a lot of peace and I was pleasantly surprised.
We are a long way from 2012 and the “hope and change” era of the Obama administration. On our dystopian, disease-ridden show, “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” also took a dark turn, this time with actor Erika (Girardi) Jayne becoming a reality TV villain over the plight of “ widows and orphans” that her ex-husband and his law firm allegedly defrauded.
But Zampino enjoyed his time on the show. And she even ― gasped! ― enjoyed some of his time with the much maligned Girardi.
“Some of the women I didn’t think I would like, in terms of the characters, what they gave and my opinions based on what I saw as a fan, I was pleasantly surprised. Like with Erika, I thought actually that she was fun. I had a great time with her. I saw her reality and I’m from New York,” Zampino said. “So I like people who are real and you know exactly where you are.”
Also a surprise for her? Lisa Rinna, star of the soap opera and wife of actor Harry Hamlin.
“I saw a very empowering side to her that I didn’t really know about,” Zampino said. “So that’s Pleasantly surprised.”
As a “Housewives” fan (I mostly use “Real Housewives of Potomac” GIFs on Twitter because Karen Huger, Ashley Darby, and Candiac Dillard Bassett are the GIFs that keep on giving), I’ve had a lot of questions for Zampino, mainly concerning her thoughts on fashion. Who brings it daily among the wives? And who could use their FIT-trained help the most?
(Psst. That’s fashionable and “reasonably” sleazy Gizelle Bryant from Potomac, isn’t it? She meant Gizelle.)
“You’re so confused with this question, and someone immediately comes to mind,” Zampino said. “I don’t want to say it.”
“Is that Gizelle?” I said, visibly messy.
“I don’t, I don’t want to say it,” she said.
“I forgive you. But in my heart, it’s Gizelle,” I said. “I can say that as someone who loves it.”
“Stay pretty,” Zampino said, still frustrated at not naming names. “I can’t say it. I can’t say you’re wrong. I can’t say it, but I can’t say you’re wrong.”
And who are the hottest housewives in Beverly Hills? Zampino had a lot of love for Rinna and drug addict Dorit Kemsley.
“What I really love about her style is Rinna. Ah, Rinna I said. I dig her style because I know my boobs are too big to wear some of the things she wears, but I love a woman who wears suits,” Zampino said. “I love that kind of androgynous chic. I love how she rocks her costumes and she’s bold with her color choices. Yeah, I like his vibe. I give I like his style. And then, of course, Dorit. Dorit has an incredible style. Dorit just goes to Louis Vuitton and says, “I’ll take it all.” Then she will wear everything at the same time.
So who does Zampino find closest, and who has she met the best with outside of Beauvais? She named relative newbies Crystal Kung Minkoff and Diana Jenkins, who already became controversial among fans during her first season on the show.
“Crystal is just adorable,” Zampino said. “I think she’s a lovely girl. She’s a lot more fun than how she’s portrayed, than what you see. I think she’s a fun girl. She’s sweet. And Diana is ― all d First of all, I love the way Diana rides, okay? She does it all, everything top, top, top, top of the line! And she is real. She’s just shameless her.
“I like to know where I stand with people,” she continued. “You don’t have to love me, but don’t tell me you love her, and then behind my back – you know what I mean? I like to know where I’m at. So that’s refreshing in this city, in Los Angeles, to meet someone who is like, “It’s me, take it or leave it. I like it.”
When it comes to who is “the sleaziest” on the show, Zampino checked the name of lovable bumbling Sutton Stracke, who I found to be a charming southerner with chronic foot-and-mouth disease.
The truest? His daughter, Garcelle Beauvais. The funniest? Zampino named herself. So rich that they are disconnected from reality? For Zampino, it’s Jenkins.
“Maybe it’s Diana, because remember, she didn’t know anything fundamental,” she said. “I don’t remember, but you’re like, ‘How do you not know?’ It was an outlet I think someone mentioned an outlet or something.
“Oh, the malls,” I said. “It was Crystal. She was talking about, ‘Have you ever been to the mall?’ “
But when it comes to who is “less” rich on a show about super-rich women, Zampino, once again, picked herself. She said Beauvais was the one she would trust the most with a secret, and the one she would trust the least is…Kyle Richards, who is often jokingly described online as an uncredited producer on the show.
“Kyle will like it, she will say it!” said Zampino.
“She’s like a producer, practically, at this point,” I said.
“Exactly. She’s exhausted. She’s totally into it…all into it, all into it!” Zampino joked.
Baddest on “RHOBH”? Even though Zampino clearly likes Girardi, she had to say so.
“The most feisty I’ve ever seen on the show is Erika,” she said. “Erika will bring that warmth, so let’s say Erika.”
“Erika is the only one besides you and Garcelle in ‘Beverly Hills’ who I think could survive in ‘[Real Housewives of] Atlanta, ’cause these women are vicious,” I said.
“Let me tell you something, you couldn’t pay me enough [to be on ‘Atlanta’]Zampino joked. “You couldn’t pay me enough. You couldn’t give me, you could give five diamonds. ‘We’ll give you 10 diamonds!’ No ma’am, no sir, no sir!”
Speaking of diamonds, does Zampino want to be a full-time cast member on “RHOBH”? From the HuffPost pages to the ears of the “Real Housewives” god ― reportedly executive producer and host of “Watch What Happens Live” Andy Cohen ― Zampino is down.
“I would love to be given a diamond,” she said.
Come on, well done. Make Zampino another gem among a cluster of diamonds. She has already indulged in reality TV. She could definitely do it again.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that “Hollywood Exes” debuted two years before “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”